Trying to define natural vs. unnatural in terms of human movement is pretty hopeless. In a philosophical sense, if the body can do it, it's natural. What's unnatural about breaking a bone, for instance? It happens 'in nature', it involves bodily healing processes, the break occurs according to the 'natural' structure of the bone, etc... Dying is plenty natural too, for that matter.
It would probably be more useful to criticize physical disciplines like ballet in terms of how they damage or restructure the body in ways that cause future pain and/or reduced function.
I would say the 'outward turn' of the hips and ankles cultivated in ballet definitely qualifies. It is nearly impossible to run fast or run serious mileage without forward-oriented hips and feet aligned forward in the same plane as knee movement. The same goes to a lesser extent for walking. For this reason, without explicit re-education/alignment of the lower body, one's capacity to do most any sporting activity might be reduced by extensive ballet training.
I am also highly suspicious of the extreme flexibility cultivated in ballet (and much yoga, for that matter), and the price in terms of sacrificed stability. Overzealous stretchers often go so far as to stretch ligaments and joint capsules, which means radically increased wear and tear and reduced functional joint life.
Cramming one's feet into pointy shoes and standing on the toes may be the worst and least reversible of the practices. I had an ex-girlfriend who was headed for pro ballet until sometime in her late teens when a ballet accident severely injured her back. In addition to the years of pain and suffering and permanent reduced capacity caused by the back trauma, her feet have never been right, requiring surgery, among other things.
Useful, pain-free function of the whole lower body and back in standing, walking, and running depend upon the foot being able to spread out and do its job properly. In the US, virtually no shoes are well designed to provide enough room for the forefoot and toes, which I think is a major contributor to our epidemic of mechanical back pathologies. What is done with ballet shoes and pointe training is far worse.
Aikido has it's hazards too, as do most athletic, dance, and martial arts pursuits. I would have to say that ballet is one of the worst, though. There's a book out that advocates an adaptation of some New York City ballet troupe's training as a recreational health/fitness program. When I looked through it, I almost choked when I saw all the horrendously unhealthy practices advocated. For those who wish to assume the risks for the sake of ballet as an art: yes, for health and fitness: no.
Last edited by Kevin Wilbanks : 04-20-2003 at 08:15 PM.